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Slavery in Australia worse than ever, Synod told

Anti-slavery Australian Freedom Network recognised with a motion at Synod

By Stephen Cauchi

Slave-like conditions in Australia are worse than ever, the Anglican General Synod was told, prompting a motion to recognise the anti-slavery Australian Freedom Network.

The motion also urges consumers to change their spending behaviour to protect workers who are being exploited.

The AFN is part of the Global Freedom Network, which was initiated by Australian businessman Andrew Forrest, and signed up to by global faith leaders including Pope Francis, in 2014.

Bishop Matt Brain from the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn, in moving the motion, said that the AFN “is a wonderful way for people to make a difference to the reality of modern slavery.”

“There are more people living with slave-like conditions in Australia, underneath the operations of our commercial systems, than there have ever been up until this point,” said Bishop Brain, although he did not give any examples.

“It is a frightening and shocking thing.

“This a practical way in which we can have meaningful impact in a world that is very suspicious when we stand up and seek to claim moral high ground.”

About 3000 people are slaves in Australia, the Global Slavery Index said in 2015. Salvation Army commissioner James Condon said at the time that slavery existed in areas like agriculture, food production, retail franchises and the sex work industry.

And known cases of slavery in Australia were just the tip of the iceberg, said commissioner Condon.

In the motion, Bishop Brain urged the Synod to recommend that all Anglicans “take up the AFN tools that allow you to make ethical decisions in what you buy.

“Things like the ethical fashion guide, and various other guides produced by Baptist World Aid.”

These were “wonderful tools”, he said, that allowed consumers to change their spending habits to protect exploited workers.

The tools “allow those who produce what we enjoy to be fairly remunerated,” said Bishop Brain.

Bishop Brain moved five points in the motion, requesting that the Synod:

1. Notes the establishment of the AFN;
2. Commends those involved in the Global Freedom Network
3. Acknowledges the reality of human trafficking and slavery;
4. Commits to personal and organisational behaviour that utilises tools such as the “Ethical Fashion Guide”;
5. Requests that the General Synod network and Anglican Schools Australia consider how it may collaborate with the AFN to support training of ethical leaders by Anglican Schools.

The AFN was launched at Parliament House in Canberra in December 2015, International Day for the Abolition of Slavery.

At this event, leaders from a number of faith traditions including the Anglican Church, signed the same “Joint Declaration of Religious Slavery” that was signed at Vatican City in 2014.